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The Right Honourable
 Nicholas Ridley 
Baron Ridley of Liddesdale, PC

In office
24 July 1989 – 13 July 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by David Young
Succeeded by Peter Lilley

In office
21 May 1986 – 24 July 1989
Preceded by Kenneth Baker
Succeeded by Chris Patten

In office
11 June 1983 – 21 May 1986
Preceded by Tom King
Succeeded by John Moore

In office
14 September 1981 – 11 June 1983
Preceded by Nigel Lawson
Succeeded by John Moore

Born 17 February 1929
Northumberland, England
Died 4 March 1993 (aged 64)
Carlisle, Cumbria, England
Political party Conservative

Nicholas Ridley, Baron Ridley of Liddesdale, PC (17 February 1929 – 4 March 1993) was a British Conservative Party politician and government minister.


Early life

Nicholas Ridley was the grandson of architect Edwin Lutyens, and is the father of the eminent social worker Susanna Rickett and historian Jane Ridley, Professor of History at the University of Buckingham. He is also the uncle of scientist and broadcaster Matt Ridley. Ridley was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. His elder brother is the 4th Viscount Ridley, a former Lord Steward of the Household.

During his Eton days, Nicholas Ridley's fag had been Tam Dalyell, later Labour MP for West Lothian. After a meeting of strong words, Ridley was reported to say "he was my fag at Eton, I wish I had beaten him more!"

He became a civil engineer and company director. He served as secretary of the Canning Club, a councillor on Castle Ward Rural District Council and a member of the executive committee of the National Trust.

Member of Parliament

At the 1955 general election, Ridley unsuccessfully contested the safe Labour seat of Blyth. He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Cirencester and Tewkesbury at the 1959 election.

He was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1962, and from 1964 he was a Select Committee member before joining the front bench.

He was a strong supporter in the Party of Margaret Thatcher. In 1973, he formed the Selsdon Group, which was opposed to the abandonment of the radical 1970 manifesto by Edward Heath. The members of the group were seen as disloyal at the time but their ideas came to dominate the Thatcher years.


In government

When the Conservatives were returned to office at the 1979 general election, Ridley was appointed to the new Conservative government as Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office responsible for the Falkand Islands. His first visit to the Islands was in July 1979, after which the Foreign Office considered the options, given that the idea of 'Fortress Falklands' was deemed unfeasible on the grounds of cost - Britain could not afford to maintain a sufficiently powerful military presence on the Islands to deter an invasion.

Instead, Nicholas Ridley was sent back to the Islands in November 1980 to try to persuade Islanders to accept a proposal for 'leaseback' whereby nominal sovereignty would be given to Argentina but British administration would be maintained for a fixed number of years until the final handover. Islanders were unconvinced and Parliament gave the proposals a hostile reception, pointing out that British peoples should not be handed over against their will to such an unsavoury regime as the Argentine junta. In the face of this opposition the Conservative government once again reiterated that the Islanders' wishes were 'paramount'.

In February 1981, with the support of the Islands' Councillors, the British government met with Argentine representatives in New York but the British proposal for a sovereignty freeze was rejected by the junta. British intelligence reports continued to suggest that Argentina would invade the Islands only if it was convinced there was no prospect of eventual transfer of sovereignty.

Ridley advised that leaseback remained the only feasible solution and recommended that Britain initiate an education campaign to persuade Islanders, but this proposal was rejected by Lord Carrington who felt that any attempt to put pressure on Islanders would be counter-productive. However, the cumulative effect of stalled sovereignty negotiations, the British Nationality Act 1981 (which would deprive many Islanders of their rights as full British citizens), the announced withdrawal of HMS Endurance, the shelving of plans to rebuild the Royal Marine barracks at Moody Brook, and the proposed closure of the British Antarctic Survey base at Grytviken on South Georgia, was to convince Argentina that Britain had no future interest in the Islands.

From 1981 to 1983 Ridley was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. After the 1983 election, Ridley - always regarded by Margaret Thatcher as "one of us" - was a beneficiary of her move to cull the Tory wets and joined her cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport. In that role he played a major part in making preparations for a possible coal strike, which proved an important factor in deciding the outcome of the UK miners' strike (1984-1985). Ridley had long been acutely aware of the threat the trade unions could pose to the execution of Conservative policies and, in the wake of the Heath government's union difficulties, had authored the Ridley Plan, which set out means of dealing with the trade unions and was a prototype for later developments. The Thatcher government attached considerable importance to being properly prepared for a major miners' strike and backed down from a confrontation with the miners in its first Parliament. By the time that the miners did strike, in March 1984, considerable efforts had been made in stockpiling coal at power stations, ensuring the availability of non-unionised transport workers and ensuring the availability of oil-fired generation plant.

Never far from controversy, he had to apologise, following the sinking of the Channel ferry, the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, for remarking that he would not be pursuing a particular policy "with the bow doors open" (the ship had capsized, with loss of 193 lives, as a result of sailing with its bow doors open).

As Secretary of State for the Environment from 1987 to 1989, he is credited with popularising the phrase NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard for those who as a reflex opposed any building development. It was soon revealed that Ridley opposed a low cost housing development near a village where he owned a property. More importantly, he was the Cabinet Minister responsible for the introduction of the Community Charge or poll tax, a policy that brought a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference at which it was announced, and riots across the country when it was implemented.

On 14 July 1990 he was forced to resign as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry after an interview published in The Spectator. He had described the proposed Economic and Monetary Union as "a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe" and said that giving up sovereignty to Europe was as bad as giving it up to Adolf Hitler. The interview was illustrated with a cartoon depicting Ridley adding a Hitler moustache to a poster of the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. While Ridley was not one of the most powerful government members, he was regarded as a Thatcherite loyalist and his departure was a significant break in their ranks. Margaret Thatcher herself had to resign four months later. Some commentators point to Ridley's resignation, its manner, and the European issue at its core, as leading indicators for the next decade of Conservative Party politics.

Retirement and Death

On 28 July 1992, he was created a life peer as Baron Ridley of Liddesdale, of Willimontswick in the County of Northumberland. Ridley died of lung cancer relatively soon after his elevation to the House of Lords. During a media launch event for an anti-litter campaign with Margaret Thatcher, Ridley was seen during the whole event with a cigarette in his mouth. Ridley's puppet on Spitting Image always had a cigarette in its mouth.

At the 1996 Nicholas Ridley Memorial Lecture, Lady Thatcher said of Ridley:

"Free-market economics was always Nick's passion. And he had a longer, better pedigree in that respect than most Thatcherites—or indeed I may add—than Thatcher herself. His first vote against a Conservative Government bailing out nationalised industries was in 1961. To be so right, so early on, is not to have seen the light—it is to have lit it.... He would have been a superb Chancellor."[1]

Trivia and memorable quotations

Nicholas Ridley was a keen water colour artist, and photographer - he even took the cover photograph for the 1960s rock group The Swinging Blue Jeans first album.

In 1990, asked to comment on the resignation of cabinet colleague Norman Fowler who had given as the reason for his resignation the wish "to spend more time with my family", Ridley quipped dryly that the last thing he wanted to do was spend more time with his family. [2]

In popular culture

Ridley was portrayed by Michael Cochrane in the 2002 BBC production of Ian Curteis's controversial The Falklands Play.


  1. ^ Nicholas Ridley Memorial Lecture (22 November, 1996)
  2. ^ remark quoted, inter al, by The Times June 2006

External links

Offices held

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Morrison
Member of Parliament for Cirencester and Tewkesbury
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Political offices
Preceded by
Nigel Lawson
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
John Moore
Preceded by
Tom King
Secretary of State for Transport
Succeeded by
John Moore
Preceded by
Kenneth Baker
Secretary of State for the Environment
Succeeded by
Chris Patten
Preceded by
Lord Young
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by
Peter Lilley


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